Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Monday, January 09, 2006

Random thoughts on demography
Written by: Dave

Some random, hastily articulated and contemplated thoughts on demography:

1. Only a cultural change can bring back high fertility rates to the West

Some people argue that the best way to encourage fertility in declining Western populations is to create economic conditions that make child bearing easier, i.e., if it's easy to afford more kids, people will have more kids. I don't think I buy it.

Standard of living is a relative concept. For instance, what we think of us adequate personal space is different than it was 50 years ago, when a 2000 SF house was considered huge. A society's conception of a high standard of living is set by those without children. As a society's wealth increases, couples with one or no children will accumulate more material wealth and personal space, setting a higher expectation for a good quality of life (material that is).

As a result, even though a family with several children might now enjoy a higher standard of living than they would have enjoyed with only one child twenty years ago, they will still perceive child bearing as a difficult economic sacrifice, because they see children as preventing them from enjoying the material comforts the smaller families enjoy.

Consequently, there is really no way to create the economic conditions which will renew high rates of fertility - only a cultural change can do so. Either that, or a large scale wealth transfer from childless couples to families that evens out the material imbalance, but that raises all sorts of sticky issues.

2. The Rape of the Sabines, and the Thais, Vietnamese, etc

The Rape of the Sabines, although a legend, was based on a common reality. Societies often rob other societies of their women to make up for their own shortages. This still happens today in Africa on a large scale.

It's a favorite theory of many that China will have to go to war in 15-30 years because the gender gap between boys and girls (17 million and growing in the under 15 population) will have resulted in a hot headed excess male population, prone to crime and violence, that needs to be diverted to other pursuits.

Well why stop there? If you're going to have a war fueled by demographic imbalances, why not fix the imbalance while you're at it. If China ends up invading Taiwan, Vietnam, etc, why not bring some of the girls back to China and fix up the lonely boys with nice slave wives. Not a bad way to motivate the troops either, especially considering that a nationwide female shortage is a great way to build up sexual frustration and misogyny.

3. American urban areas will become increasingly unaffordable for families

As more and more couples choose to remain childless, and homosexuality becomes a more and more accepted lifestyle, urban life will become increasingly difficult for families to afford.

Childless couples don't need space and convenience as much as families do. They can also afford to indulge inconvenient political beliefs that don't make economic sense for their communities. For instance, if you're a trendy young couple in San Francisco for instance, you don't want a WalMart in your neighborhood, you don't want any new residential development, you like your expensive boutique shops, you don't mind obscene art displayed on the streets, etc, etc. Most significantly, perhaps, you don't mind living in and paying for an overpriced tiny apartment, because it's worth the cost to live in a trendy, hip neighborhood with lots of authenticity and character.

But this becomes a self perpetuating cycle of childlessness. As the conditions in the city become less and less conducive to child rearing, residents must either choose the city or a family. As a result the city becomes increasingly filled with childless couples, who can afford to indulge government politicies that are even more innapropriate for families, and who can afford to pay for increasingly unnaffordable housing and other daily necessities. Thus you end up with San Francisco, which is now actually losing population, even though it remains a highly desirable place to live.

It's too bad, because they're are a lot of great things about city life.

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